VERITAS Research Institute for History and Archives

“My younger son is attending the Reichsdeutsche Schule on Damjanich Street. They have just concluded the year with a field trip combined with a sports event, from which he has come home triumphantly waving a decorative certificate. [...] One gets the feeling that this school is happy about its students, loves them and is at least as ambitious on their behalves as the parents are, with the difference that the love of the school is always encouraging while the love of the parents often mollifies the children. Otherwise it is an excellent school where much is learned with ease and without arrogance. There are plenty of activities, competitions and practical exercises. The German humanistic spirit, the old German spirit of morality without the new German mistakes, lingers over it all. There are also separate Hungarian lessons, and I have not noticed that the children lag behind in the official language of instruction when it comes to Hungarian education.”

The Reichsdeutsche Schule, i.e., School of the German Empire (1908–1944), was a popular and respected Budapest school during the Interwar Era that at first glance, interestingly enough, was also recognized by Frigyes Karinthy in the article cited above (“Német iskola. Gyerekek és felnőttek számára.” [“A German School for Children and Adults”], Pesti Napló, June 19th, 1932, p. 36). One was and is – then as now – taken by surprise. Did the well-known writer perhaps not sense the danger of the advancing militant extreme right in Germany? Or was he perhaps trying to acquaint his son Cini (Ferenc Karinthy), quoted in the article, with the goings-on at the school, in an attempt to deter him?

Originally founded as a school for the children of German citizens temporarily based in Hungary for business or diplomatic reasons, children of other nationalities were soon allowed to enroll, including Hungarian children from the beginning of the 1920’s. The school became extremely popular among the bourgeois families of Budapest and Jewish residents of the city who preferred sending their children there. The institution, which was characterized by its international atmosphere, tolerant spirit and complete lack of political extremism, taught its students European perspectives and ways of thinking, in addition to providing an acknowledged high quality Hungarian education. The teaching staff consisted mainly of open-minded and tolerant pedagogues (according to later descriptions by students), so much so that when education reforms were introduced following Hitler’s transition to power, German teachers requested transfer to the school based in Budapest, where they would enjoy greater academic freedom and try to stay until more favorable times. Moreover, they consciously sought to avoid acting and behaving as point men for the German Reich.

A fitting testament to the high educational standards of the school was the high number of graduates, including many Jews, who went on to leave their mark in a variety of fields. For example, the school was attended by the chosen heir of the Goldberger dynasty, György, who later fell victim to a traffic accident in Austria. There were academic years when Jews made up forty percent of the student body. In the 1980’s, Miklós Dénes, Frigyes Karinthy’s former secretary, recalled the following conversation between father and son:

“One day Cini comes home from school and asks his father, ‘Dad, when people grow old, do they then become Jewish?’

‘Where did you get this nonsense from?’ replies Karinthy.

‘Because all of my classmates’ grandfathers are Jewish.’

To which Karinthy retorts, ‘Tell them that yours is a negro.’”

That Jews felt at home at the school was further reinforced by Cini's classmate Walter Endrei, who went on to become a well-known industrial historian: “In fairness to the Germans, I have to say that Nazism came to the school very late. Up to my high school graduation, nay, even after 1939 there was no real hatred of Jews.” (

In light of this history, the attempts to besmirch the school, begun immediately after World War II, become all the more obvious. From a spring 1947 edition of Szabad Nép: “From all parts of the city, privileged parents in blind enthusiasm for that which was German sent their progeny to the School of the German Empire with no consideration that their receptive souls would be saturated with a concentrated Nazi spirit.” (“Reichsdeutsch-schule” [School of the German Empire], Szabad Nép, April 30th, 1947, p. 4). Rehabilitation only took place after the System Changeover, when more and more former students of good repute recalled in appreciative words the years spent at the school. They not only disassociated their former alma mater from sinister principles, but also presented it – as Éva Székely, who was Jewish, did in the daily Népszava in 2003 – as an “ideal community”. (“Egy nagy csapat tagja leszek…” [“I will be a member of a large team...”], Népszava, February 8th, 2003, p. 8.) Commemoration of and esteem for the school, however, were mostly thanks  to director Gábor Zsigmond Papp’s masterful documentary (School of the Empire, 2003), a winner at the 35th Hungarian Film Festival.

by László Orosz

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